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Another Electric Car Maker Loses Power

May 2, 2013

After selling just 100 units of its product, electric car manufacturer Coda Holdings has filed for Chapter 11 in a Delaware bankruptcy court.

Coda Automotive's only vehicle was its Coda Car, an all-electric sedan with four doors and a battery pack. The company has its headquarters in Los Angeles. Coda Cars have an EPA-rated battery range of about 88 miles to a charge — less than electric vehicles made by competitor Tesla Motors.

The future for Coda could take a different shape, however, provided a successful restructuring. According to a Reuters report, the company may elect to exit the automobile industry entirely and instead license its battery technology to the electric utility industry, which has a need for battery energy storage.

As potentially interesting as this might be to the power generation and delivery sector, it's hard to explain consumer's reluctance to embrace electric vehicles — even as the price at the pump could leap just as high or higher than it has in the past.

Economic analysts have blamed the overall economy as well as "range anxiety" — a prospective drivers' worry of running out of charge far away from a charging station.

Personally, I'd like for my next car to be a plug-in, but range is a concern. If I were to buy such a car, I would like it to have a range of at least 115 miles per charge — the distance I would drive from Tulsa to visit relatives in Oklahoma City.

There are other problems too. If I had a plug-in, I'd like to have a charging station in my own garage. I know there are stores that sell conversion kits so you can install one, but truth be told I'm not sure how the install would work, how much it would cost, and how heavily the charging would affect my electric bill. Questions like these, I'm sure, are pretty common.

Maybe it's unanswered consumer questions that are sinking companies like Fisker Automotive, which could, like Coda, soon go before a bankruptcy court. Fisker had to return $21 million worth of Department of Energy loan support after failing to make a payment on the loan. Things started to go south for Fisker when the company's battery maker, A123 Systems (itself a DOE loan recipient that later had part of its loan revoked), declared bankruptcy.

It's a bit of a catch-22 for electric car makers. Customers have legitimate questions about what it's like to own an electric vehicle. They want to know if they are reliable, easy to charge, fun to drive and cheap to own. Questions like these could be answered if they had a friend, neighbor or family member that owned one. But nobody seems to know one because the cars aren't selling.

There is a bright spot, perhaps. At least, to the extent that the stock market can be an indicator. Shares in Tesla Motors have surged to a new high as of this writing, and the company has sold about 7,000 of its Model S, a premium electric sedan that sells for about $95,400. The stock market can turn on a dime, though, so it's impossible to say whether the good times will last for the Fremont, California-based company.

I realize I have not mentioned the established automakers, like Ford and Nissan for example, which are marketing their own electric vehicles. Their advantage, obviously, is that they are able to dip a toe into the market without having to go "all in" and start a company from the ground up, as many others have. Still, sales have been disappointing so far, and fans of electric vehicles are left to hope that the larger manufacturers are taking the long view and remain willing to take a risk on electric vehicle technology as consumers grow more comfortable with the idea of a car you plug in.

This blog was originally published on Electric Power and Light and was republished with permission.

Lead image: Financial concept via Shutterstock

The information and views expressed in this blog post are solely those of the author and not necessarily those of or the companies that advertise on this Web site and other publications. This blog was posted directly by the author and was not reviewed for accuracy, spelling or grammar.

Jeff Postelwait is online editor for the website shared by POWERGRID International and Electric Light & Power magazines and is the editor of electronic newsletters for the following coverage areas: advanced metering infrastructure, transmission and distribution, GIS/mobile computing, renewable en...


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